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12 Insanely Disturbing Hieronymus Bosch Paintings That Will Overload Your Mind

Updated February 26, 2021 432 votes 125 voters 78.4k views12 items

List RulesVote up the Bosch paintings that get weirder and more unnerving the longer you look at them.

If you're looking for a gift for someone you hope never sleeps again, look no further. When it comes to creepy art, Hieronymus Bosch is king. His portraits of hell are unrivaled, with a series of interlinking details that can make your flesh crawl and stomach flip. There is little known about the Netherlandish painter from the 16th century, so not very much background information on the paintings is available. But, as a whole, they speak volumes about Bosch's terrifying imagination. Only about 25 paintings and 8 drawings are definitely attributable to him, but his fantastical and demonic imagery are so vivid that it was more than enough to earn Hieronymous Bosch a place in art history.

There are weird paintings and then there are disturbing paintings. While Bosch's subject matter - often dealing with sin, hell, and death - is inherently unnerving, the painter goes above and beyond to land him in the "clearly disturbing" category. Bosch's exquisite attention to detail gives him a unique, surrealist feel, and his demonic preoccupations make you wish we knew more about this talented (if twisted) artist. 

  • 5

    Paradise and Hell

    Photo: Hieronymus Bosch / via Wikimedia

    Another hellscape from Bosch, but that doesn’t mean he’s run out of horrific ideas. It features an ominous monkey yielding an ax and the carcass of a person hung upside-down bleeding onto a person below, just to name a couple highlights. But here, the juxtaposition with Paradise on the left makes it all the more creepy. We see the story of Adam and Eve and what could have been in the Garden of Eden. And the consequences of damnation look all the worse set against the lush paradise.

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  • 6

    Death and the Miser

    Photo: sjrankin / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    As if death wasn’t scary enough. Here, you see a miser still clutching his gold even as death approaches, which is depressing in itself. But on the periphery are the demons, always popular with Bosch. The one coming up over the top of the bed has a particular Gollum-like revolting element. Then the tiny, slightly too lifelike Jesus hanging from the window, with a clear sight line toward the miser, adds a heavy layer of judgment and creepy omniscience.

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  • 7

    The Hell and the Flood

    Photo: Hieronymus Bosch / via Wikimedia

    Bosch's demons look just as horrific in black and white - or at least in the weird grayscale used in this painting. The reds and oranges provide a hellish backdrop to the grays and blacks of the demons. The appear everywhere: on the ground, in the air, even underground. You get the impression that they're lurking everywhere, and know you'd never stand a chance. Who'd want to run into a woman's head on the body of a chicken? 

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  • 8

    Cutting the Stone

    Photo: Hieronymus Bosch / via Wikimedia

    Philosopher Michel Foucalt said of this painting, “Bosch's famous doctor is far more insane than the patient he is attempting to cure, and his false knowledge does nothing more than reveal the worst excesses of a madness immediately apparent to all but himself." It’s an unnerving thought.

    The inscription reads, “Master, cut away the stone/my name is Lubbert Das" - Lubbert Das was a fool or clown in Dutch literature. But the idea of someone sitting there looking worried as a stone or bulb is cut out of their skull is enough to churn your stomach. And just look how much the "doctor" is enjoying it - that's not an innocent smile. 

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